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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Dummying Up and Dumbing Down - Eventually, neither works

Musings on a sleepless night...

Gizmo wizards have invented technology that lets you view programming provided by your own cable TV subscription, in other words, your shows, on a laptop from anywhere -- from another room in your house, while on vacation -- anywhere you can get a cable, wi-fi or any other fast internet connection. Although content and service providers are having fits about it, it seems destined to come to market as a vast success.

My brother, tech journalist Ken Sander, covered an independently developed version in the October issue of Sound & Vision magazine and it's just hit the international big-time media this week.

Ken Sander wrote:
The TV2me signal can’t be distributed to other Internet users because it’s encrypted and point-to-point, not point-to multipoint. In legal terms, it’s the equivalent of time-shifting, but [inventor Ken] Schaffer calls it space-shifting ... similar to sending a signal to your bedroom except your bedroom can be anywhere in the world.

TV2me isn’t a commercial product that’s being mass produced yet. Sales have been limited to a few systems Schaffer has sold to friends and acquaintances for $6,500 each. He says that legal questions prevent him from saying who has bought them, but judging from the pictures on his wall, his friends are rock & rollers and movie stars like Sting, Rod Stewart, Dennis Hopper and Mick Jagger.
I met TV2me's inventor, Ken Schaffer in New York amidst the rock scene in the sixties. He invented a wireless microphone and guitar pickup system used by major rock bands and brought Russian Rock and Roll to the states as one of his first Russo-American ventures. As the N.Y. Times' story relates:
I Want My Moscow TV
By SETH SCHIESEL - Published: December 2, 2004

...in 1981, after detouring to invent a wireless microphone, travel with the Rolling Stones and make guitars for John Lennon, Mr. Schaffer installed a satellite dish atop his Midtown Manhattan apartment building and was soon pulling in broadcasts from the Soviet Union.

"I wasn't interested in HBO and free Showtime," he said. "...I was watching Russian feeds from Moscow to Cuba - and what they used to do after they finished the feed is, the Russians would send porno to Havana, or American films. And this was before Gorbachev and all that kind of stuff."
The story goes on to tell a lot more about this quirky inventor and about TV2me, which Scheaffer uses to monitor his TV from both his New York and his Moscow apartment.

The story in the Moscow Times (archived and unlinkable) reports:
For Rock Stars, A Satellite TV to Go
By Carl Schreck Thursday, December 2, 2004

"A New Yorker visiting Prague can watch his favorite 'Seinfeld' reruns or select from the more than 200 channels offered by his cable company," Schaffer said. "Or a Russian businessman can watch 66 channels of Moscow cable live from his midtown Manhattan hotel room."
I'm particularly cheered to read about TV2me today, because I was beginning to feel as if a vise was closing in on independent thought in media, education and science worldwide after reading for the past few days about the government's recent condemnation (or worse) of "public intellectuals" in China, where I'm living now and a drastic budget cut to scientific development in my home country, the U.S. It reminded me that the flow of information, thanks in great measure to the internet (such as it is becoming) and TV (such as it has become), persists in puncturing obstruction even as it reports it. Seems like a reasonable bargain.

I've been reading a lot about the recent and startling resurgence in the "greylisting" of intellectuals in China on internet news and commentary sites but the ever-scabrous Beijing media blog Danwei.org has a concise and biting summary with links.

Here's a snip from The N.Y. Times story on the $105 million NSF budget cuts:
Congress Trims Money for Science Agency
By ROBERT PEAR Published: November 30, 2004

"I am astonished that we would make this decision at a time when other nations continue to surpass our students in math and science and consistently increase their funding of basic research," said Mr. Ehlers, a former physics professor who is chairman of a technology subcommittee. "The National Science Foundation supports technological innovation that is crucial to the sustained economic prosperity that America has enjoyed for several decades."
but the best analysis of the research funding cuts is in this Berkshire Eagle editorial:
Dumbing Down America

The decision of Congress to cut the budget for the National Science Foundation indicates that Washington's faith-based and fear-based antipathy to science is well on the way to becoming institutionalized. It is bad for the country economically and beyond that it represents another step backwards for a nation that used to pride itself for being on the cutting edge of scientific research and technology.

[...snip]

Intel is opening laboratories in China, in part because it doesn't have to pay workers as much but in part because China encourages scientific research with subsidies and doesn't bind it with petty restrictions. European and Asian nations are also putting more money into scientific and mathematical programs at their universities, while America is doing the exact opposite. It's not surprising then, that fewer foreign students are coming to American universities which are no longer at the forefront of education and research.

Well... besides the fact that the State Department has made it increasingly difficult for foreign students to get U.S. visas. Dumb! [Ed.]

The congressional Republicans who drew up the legislation cutting the NSF budget claimed they did so to hold the line on domestic spending,but ...that argument is transparently false. The cuts are in reality a symptom of the anti-intellectualism rampant in America, a country where too many residents are poorly informed and proud of it. This attitude will weaken America severely in terms of its economy, but there is no price tag on how much it weakens the psyche of a nation that at one time prided itself on its thinkers, its inventors, its scientists, and its open-minded approach to new thoughts and ideas.
Even the nattering conservatives say they're feeling an intellectual pinch in academia, as the ever-pompous William F. Buckley, Jr. asserts in this Op/Ed:
Dumb Bright Guys
[...snip] a national survey of more than 1,000 academics, shows that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least 7-to-1 in the humanities and social sciences. "That ratio," we are told, "is more than twice as lopsided as it was three decades ago, and it seems quite likely to keep increasing, because the younger faculty members are more consistently Democratic than the ones nearing retirement."

As a shrewd observer of the scene, David Horowitz, points out, "Right now, conservative students are discouraged from pursuing scholarly careers, because they see very clearly that their professors consider Republicans to be the enemy."

Another faculty study found a 9-to-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans on the faculties of Berkeley and Stanford. That study included the hard sciences and engineering (where good sense is reputed to prevail). The ratio was especially lopsided among younger professors of assistant or associate rank: 183 Democrats vs. 6 (loony?) Republicans.
I'm tempted to say that sounds like good news to me, but professors should be impartial and I hope they are. I'd hate to think education has devolved to dogma vs. dogma in America's finest universities, but I'd be a fool not to expect the ideological divisiveness apparent in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential campaign and election results to overflow in the coming four years. It may well be a necessary process; breakthrough thrives on conflict and resistance.

There's always somewhere to go with a good new idea. Scientists have had to border-hop for centuries. The truth seems to have a life of its own, regardless of suppression or how difficult it might be to accept. Often, it takes time. It seems to be a law of nature. After all, The Sun May Have Captured Asteroids from Afar.

// posted by Ellen @  18:38   //Permalink// 
Ellen says hey
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.


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